Although the weather was getting from bad to worse, this did not stop the electrifying atmosphere at the recent Palm Sunday march in Sydney. In fact, it proved how Jews, Muslims and Christians can see eye-to-eye when it comes to helping people.
The day commenced at Belmore Park with the Solidarity Choir, followed by the inspiring MC Dr David Isaacs of Westmead Children’s Hospital, who described the atrocious conditions for children at Nauru which he had witnessed first hand. And his words were echoed by Joel Shakespeare of ‘Save the Children’ who worked on Nauru for 9 months. Shokufa Takiri, an Afghan refugee and member of ‘Hazara Women for Change’, related the difficulties that she and others had experienced and how it has affected other people – this really moved the crowd. These opinions were reinforced when Dr Sue Wareham of the Medical Association for Prevention of War took to the stage – she explained how war is a major cause of people becoming refugees.
In a shared stand of solidarity, it was wonderful to see religious and faith leaders speaking on behalf of their communities:
- Rev John Barr, president of the NSW Ecumenical Council, reminded us of the importance of standing together for our common beliefs.
- Ms Wies Schviringa, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) points struck a chord when it came to shared concerns for desperate refugees at their time of need.
- Very Rev Fr Shenouda Mansour, a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church and General Secretary of the NSW Ecumenical Council – understanding and co-operation were key elements in his remarks.
- Rev Myung Hwa Park of Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT shared her many experiences which was well accepted by the crowd.
- Ahmad Malas, Lebanese Muslim Association, got peoples attention when emphasising the point of solidarity in these difficult times.
- Robin Margo, a member of the Jewish community said: “Jews know what it is like to be seeking refuge in desperate times and how they were helped by people smugglers.” The speeches concluded with Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition and head organiser of the event, thanking everyone for attending, but he also reiterated the importance of spreading the word about the plight of refugees and how we as a nation can do so much more. “Our government must take immediate steps towards righting the current abhorrent situation as there has been enough suffering.” And, in unison, the crowd echoed a call for allowing refugees to remain in Australia. Let’s just hope that the politicians can hear the call!
- The 2,500 crowd then marched with their banners “Seeking Asylum is a Human Right”, “Refugees are Welcome Here”, “Jews for Refugees”, “Detention Hurts Everyone” and others, from Belmore Park down Broadway to Victoria Park, beside Sydney University. Pedestrians stopped in their tracks and many motorists blew horns in support along the way.
- And in a ground-breaking moment, Margo pointed out that 16 Rabbis from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra had signed a combined statement urging the Australian government to act with empathy and compassion towards these most vulnerable people and to do everything in its power to care for them and to reduce their trauma. And just as other faiths have stood firm on the refugee issue, this important document also asks our government to ‘shorten the time it takes to assess refugee claims’ and declares that the signatories ‘stand in solidarity with people of all faiths who have offered protection and sanctuary to people seeking asylum.’